Government data done well

December 12, 2010

Thanks to Dr Michael Hausenblas of the Linked Data Research Centre in Galway, Ireland for posting an excellent example on their website (http://lab.linkeddata.deri.ie/2010/star-scheme-by-example/)  of how Tim Berners-Lee’s “five star” model of government data might operate in practice on the W3C  (World Wide Web Consortium) e-government group. The model may explain to a wider audience what “open data” is and is able to permit. The “five star” model is briefly summarised as:

* on the web, open licence

** machine-readable data

*** non-proprietary formats

**** RDF standards

***** Linked RDF

Some of us will need to be reminded about what TLA’s like RDF and URI mean, so I’ve linked off to W3C.

The W3C is also looking at establishing a Government Linked Data Working Group to focus on the technical issues needed behind all this and it now has a draft charter to operate by.

An end to reinventing square wheels – lets have some international standards for e-government fit for the World Wide Web!

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The technicist manifesto

July 15, 2010

The 12 July 2010, with a bit of a fanfare at 10 Downing Street, saw the launch of  ‘Manifesto for a Networked Nation’, the current output of Martha Lane-Fox’s Race Online 2012.

Initial thoughts are that although the pdf is only 2Mb, the maps on its central pages may make many a printer unhappy, as may the variety of colours and sizes of fonts affect anybody lacking a taste for concrete poetry. I’m also concerned that a document claiming support for accessibility and inclusivity (sections 9.1 and 9.2) dares use such a mix colour and seriffed fonts as to be almost psychedelic. On top of the visual abuse, I could also challenge some of the English language abuse within the text, but I’m off to a bad start already…

OK, my sympathies are with the intent of the report and getting more people online. However, whilst getting them to use government services online may save government some money and buying  goods may save the user some money, along with demonstrating the skills they’ve developed, what are the benefits?

The Internet has massive benefits as a medium of communications, I rarely get a pen out and write a letter these day, when a quick email suffices. Information (of all sorts, including the bad, sad and dangerous to know) is at my fingertips. However, I would anticipate that it’s still may not be everybody’s garden of earthly delight and some will always need a mediated guide through some of its hazards. The dangers of phishing, viruses and incorrect information are probably far too advanced for many potential users, as can be seen by the numbers caught out in the assorted scams that plague netizens.

I would also question at a time of cuts, redundancies and uncertainty how MLF expects local authorities, charities and others to now launch out and support a government initiative when they are struggling with maintaining services? OK, we believe from Socitm research that 80% of councils restrict their employees’ access to the Internet but someone needs to convince them this is not risking the other pieces of government guidance such as child protection and access to the government secure intranet (the document has frequent mentions of the DWP – home of Government Connect!)

Now for another moan. In large print the report on page 14 states, talking about the Internet, that “it was an Oxford graduate who created this significant invention”. I presume this refers to Tim Berners-Lee inventor of the World Wide Web, whilst I was always under the impression that we could blame the Internet on Vint Cerf, a graduate of Stanford. I wonder if the information was sourced upon some of the dodgy data on the Internet?

To broaden the thinking and possibly add some robustness to the debate, I’d like to present a couple of quotations –

In an interview Oscar A. Ornati, Professor of Manpower Management at New York University (quoted in Deming 1986, p.198) states that:

“We have forgotten that the function of government is more equity oriented than efficiency oriented. The notion that we must be “efficient” in the same way in both sectors is fallacious. For government, efficiency must be subsumed to equity. If we do not keep equity in the forefront of the public sector, we will destroy our society. It is unfortunate that we tend to lavish so much praise on management specialists who laud the techniques of private sector management in the public sector.”

Deming, W. E. (1986). Out of the Crisis, M.I.T. Press.

 In a joint Parliamentary and industry report, EURIM (2008, p.2) confirms this:

“It is too crude an approach to seek savings simply by replacing face-to-face services with Internet access to services that might engage more time-poor citizens. Many of those in most need (at least 20% of the overall population and a majority of the elderly) are physically unable to use a conventional screen and keyboard, even if they wished to.”

EURIM (2008) “How to Achieve Citizen-Centric Service Delivery: Let the People Speak.” EURIM Transformational Government Dialogues 8, http://www.eurim.org.uk/activities/dialogues/TGD_IntegratedReport.pdf.


Semantic, semantics

May 11, 2010

Another report from Pew that has hit my inbox, courtesy of Rachel Flagg on the W3C egov Interest Group, is a study entitled “The Fate of the Semantic Web“. At 48 pdf’d pages it’s not a strenuous read and Pew have gone to great lengths to make this a challenging report about a concept the workings of which are really so little understood that the then Prime Minister dropped it into a speech without explaining what is expected to result from it, as I reported back in March in “A week in politics“.

However, if you’d like to know more about what might result in the world of the semantic web and whether some of the Internet’s most notable thinkers, all 895 of them,  consider it will happen when and how Tim Berners-Lee seems to think it will, look no further than the Pew Internet site.

One quotation from the report that sums it up for me is from Larry Masinter of Adobe who states “The ‘semantic web’ is a direction for technology development, not a ‘thing’ that can be ‘achieved,’ and whether average internet users notice not a particularly useful question.”

There was a similar problem with e-government, where we had the politicians wanting some of “it”, since “it” was obviously a good thing, and we then spent six or seven years trying to achieve “it”. The semantic web is happening and will continue to happen; what we need to do is make sure we have standards across government to help it happen in the best way for users along with trying to work sympathetically across government(s) to deliver it, in a manner that will benefit the citizens and the nations.

Everything is possible, it just helps to have some comprehension of standardization, or even standards, amongst those delivering it to produce a worthwhile outcome.


New blogger on the street

July 29, 2009

As a member of the Local CIO Council I know John Suffolk, Her Majesty’s Government’s Chief Information Officer and the person responsible for the existence of the Local CIO Council. However, it took Public Sector Forums to advise me of his new blog. As I should have already written, I’d met and spoken to John in July at ECEG 2009 before he’d opened the second day with a presentation about the future of e-government. In the blog John develops upon the presentation he gave, along with the goings on at the CIO Council.

It also informs me of what I’d missed at the last CIO meeting, since being ‘down south’ for the conference I needed to get back to work and couldn’t attend. It was apparently regaled by  Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Professor Nigel Shadbolt assisting thoughts on the way forward for government IT and e-government, so I look forward to the next meeting of the council, along with the up and coming entries on John’s blog.

A single criticism, as if I’d dare, but where are the mentions of multi-channel operation, citizens, metrics – those little things that have been swept under the e-government carpet for the last ten years?

I’ve added it to my blogroll, anyway!